Friday, January 20, 2006

word from AFRICA

The posts have not been too regular lately because I am in Africa. Even as I type this I find it hard to believe that I sat in an airplane for nearly 24 hours and emerged halfway around the world in another hemisphere. I feel surprisingly at home (perhaps it is the good friends I am staying with who make that so) and though I have seen many interesting and strange sights and have met a wide array of African and international people, the similarities seem more pronounced than the differences. I will write more on my trip later, but last night as I was lying in bed, I was suddenly struck by a truth (enough to make me get out of bed, turn on the light, and write some thoughts down in my journal).

Lately, spurred by various discussions with people and different encounters, I have been thinking about what our words mean in different contexts and last night as I laid down, this phrase ran through my head: We have divorced our words from our actions. With God, they are one. When God spoke in Genesis one, things immediately changed; light appeared, animals were created, skies were filled with stars. The words themselves had the power to substantiate because they were spoken from the authority inherent in the character of God. I think it is likely that a degree of this same authority was resident in the first man. God gave him tasks regarding managing the earth and its inhabitants that would have been impossible to accomplish through force or manual effort - being made in the image of God, he would have learned to work in the same way as his maker and constant friend and mentor and that was to use words to create and do. So what changed? Deception, manipulation, jealousy, and betrayal entered into the picture and the pure character that infuses words with power was lost.

I try to be careful with my words because I know they can have great power. I have seen one spoken word change someone's circumstances. I have had words spoken to me that carried more weight than an army of rhetoric and facts. I do believe that if we had the moral fibre and purity of purpose that comes from living close to a loving God, we could say to a mountain, "Move!", and it would have to comply. It is the way God intended it. Only after we chose a supposed shortcut to power did the curse of hard labour to maintain our lives come into being - before that, the power was in the words.

But redemption being what it is - the life of Jesus again showed us the resident power of words that emminate from a godly heart. He invited Peter to "Come" out of the boat and the very water became solid stepping stones for his trusting feet. Over and over again Jesus' simple words brought instant healing as maimed and diseased bodies responded to an authority so pure it was greater than any distortion sin could mangle the human body with. And yet, our present culture seems to still prefer the so-called "shortcut" that was offered so long ago in the garden - manipulation, telling people what they want to hear, spinning facts in such a way as to give a skewed perception, and idle tossing about of words to amuse and shock and entertain because they are seemingly cheap and easily replenished. Not true. The reason words carry so little weight these days is because we have rendered them weightless and ineffective by our own carelessness and our lack of character.

Words and actions are one. This is the truth. It is we who have it backwards and live with the deception (as if it were truth) that you can separate the two - say one thing and do another, make a promise and never deliver, speak of the way things should be and never take any steps to accomplish them, mouth words of love and remain selfish, and take words and names in vain because there seem to be no consequences to doing this. But we are paying a very dear price...I have yet to hear someone call out "Come" and keep someone from drowning in their dire circumstances, I have yet to pronounce "Be healed" and see wholeness tranform a life, I have yet to speak words that would raise someone from the very grip of death. And I know it is possible. I just have to learn what Jesus knew and start to practice.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

the REAL thing

I am reading through Deuteronomy and have once again encountered God’s warning not to make a form, an image, or an idol representing God. This is a hard concept for us to grasp in our modern, mostly iconoclastic society, but today as I was reading, I think I caught a glimpse of something very distasteful that I have often seen in religious circles and (ugh) in my own practice of faith. It is hard to explain or put your finger on exactly, but it is a certain smugness at doing the right thing, an ignorant pride that comes with knowing partial truth, a bravado at having somehow managed to be on the winning team and looking pitifully at those still waiting to be picked. When a particularly gifted evangelist comes to town, the committed Christians crowd the place and knowingly nod at every profound point, giving a sideways glance at those poor sinners who have ventured into the meeting and surely must be on the verge of repentance, I mean, how could one not be under this anointed preaching? A brief organized group foray into the streets where we drop a few dollars in beggars’ hats and ask a few people questions about God and suddenly we are comparing ourselves to Mother Theresa, impressed with our own sacrifice and compassion as we head back to our four-bedroom homes with two televisions and food rotting in our refrigerators. A visiting missionary comes through and tells stories of difficult times and the faithfulness of God. We pray for her and give her some money to go back into harm’s way and feel tingly and warmed by our participation in this dangerous mission for the ultimate cause.

I fear that I have in some ways replaced the reality of a living, breathing relationship with the lover of my soul, with a two-dimensional representation of what I think the outward workings of a religious and devout person should look like if they were indeed a friend of God. It is like portraying all the characteristics of a happily married person when there is no one at home in your bed…you are simply basing your behaviour on what you have read and seen other married people do and you buy into the lifestyle. It is a form of marriage, a hollow image, without any substance at all. Intimacy and mystery seldom show themselves, and God has made a point of seldom showing himself (mostly for our own good, I suspect), but it is also part of his nature. Anytime we define something, carve it in stone, paint a picture of what it should look like in our minds, or imagine we know exactly what God would do in a certain situation…we are putting form to something God never intended us to put form to. A picture of Dean is a very poor substitute for Dean, in fact, I hardly have any pictures of him at all. I prefer to have him come home every night and experience the real thing. And if you ask me what he is like, instead of showing you a picture of him, I will tell you about his laugh, or his passion for music, or the funny thing he said last night. My description would be different every day.

If I thought I knew everything about my husband (everything had been revealed), then what would be the point of spending night after night together? People who truly have intimacy sparkle when they speak of the other person – they do not gloat at their incredible good fortune at finding such a fine specimen of humanity, are not smug about everything their marriage has produced, they are not presumptuous about what the other person might think or do, and above all, they value time together – not just the ideal of being married.

I guess what I am trying to say is that too often I see faith measured by how good it looks on the outside (I am guilty of this as well) and how well it measures up to the standard we have arbitrarily set for it, when in reality, intimacy is a difficult thing to decipher and manifests itself in variegated and colourful ways. I want to pursue the real thing, not a life-size facsimile.